In a letter he sent to his fellow members of the Board of Selectmen, Michael Kaelin made a surprise announcement that he intends to step down from his seat, effective June 30.
The board will begin discussing how to fill the vacancy Kaelin will leave at its meeting tonight, Monday, June 4.
Kaelin first joined the BOS in November 2014 as an appointee filling a vacancy himself, replacing the departing Hal Clark. He was then elected by voters for the first time in November 2015. He was chosen by his fellow board members to serve as second selectman to First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice until this past November, when the BOS voted to make Dave Clune second selectman instead.
This announcement is not the first time Kaelin has surprised the town since taking office. In December 2016, the longtime Republican and former chair of the Republican Town Committee announced he had decided to become unaffiliated from the GOP.
While the move was certainly unexpected, Kaelin says he didn’t think it would be surprising, and that resigning mid-term is “the best time” to step down. In his resignation letter he wrote that because all of the current members of the Board of Selectmen have become familiar enough with the budget-setting process through at least two budget cycles, the time is right for him to leave–and more importantly, he says, for someone new to come in.
“In looking at the experience that other people have on the Board, it just seemed like a good time to get a new perspective because even though Deb [McFadden] is a new Board member, she’s been on the Board before. This is one of the few times in my experience in town where we’ve really had that many experienced people on the Board. Maybe it’s a good time for the person with the most experience on the Board to get off and for somebody new to get on,” he tells GOOD Morning Wilton.
Kaelin adds that one major consideration is that his professional workload as a litigator at Cummings & Lockwood has become very busy.
“I’m trying to spend my time, devoting my efforts to where I can do the most good. I actually feel like I do a lot of good every single day at work representing people in court. It just seems like in terms of having an impact, I’m actually having a greater positive impact through work than I am through the Board of Selectmen. I used to think that I was really contributing a lot to the Board of Selectmen and I was making a difference. It’s not that I don’t think I do that anymore, but I think there are plenty of other people now who are capable of doing that. I know just from the past election and from talking to other people, they are plenty of other people willing and able to serve on the Board of Selectman. Good people. They probably have more time than I do to contribute towards it. The right thing to do is to make the space for them to do it,” he says.
Something Kaelin says did factor in his decision was that he did feel certain limits about what could be accomplished.
“Our budget is really just bare bones. We just cut to the bone. There’s really a limit to what we can do because all we’re doing is managing finite resources. If anything, the frustration is that we can’t do more, but we can’t do more because we don’t have the resources and none of us has any control over that.”
When Kaelin came on the Board in 2014, the major issue at the time was the Miller-Driscoll renovation and the costs associated with the project. Sensible Wilton represented people who were opposed to the project and its scope. In reference to that and to other issues the town has faced, Kaelin has said in the past that he hoped to be a consensus builder.
He’s humble about his role in doing that as a member of the BOS.
“It’s really not me. The biggest impact on the BOS has been Lynne. I think it’s been a very positive impact, when we were bringing together the people from Sensible Wilton. They thought we were spending too much money on it. The people were in favor of the project. When we were bringing those people together, you know, Lynn was the one doing it. She was the one arranging it. She was the one getting people together. She was the one that had credibility. I was literally just sitting next to her. I can’t take credit for any of that, but I think all of that is really good.”
Despite giving credit to his BOS colleagues, he does think the thing he’ll be “remembered for” is being a good listener.
“That’s why I got on the Board. That’s what I wanted to do was to make everyone feel like they were being listened to,” he says.
One of the other reasons Kaelin got active in municipal politics was because of the divisiveness he saw–in politics, in gown government and elsewhere. It’s something he says has changed in the time he’s been on the Board.
“In terms of town meetings and votes on budgets and letters to the editor for and against the budget, I think there’s the least amount of dissension right now. I think there is a pretty good feeling about town now and a pretty positive feeling. Maybe it doesn’t look that way when you look at social media, but it just goes back to whether you want to see what they’re posting or not.”
He continues, “This last town meeting was terrific, it was the best town meeting I’ve been at. There was so little dissension and the dissension that there was did not have the edge to it that it had in the past. Even before you were in town, there was really this us vs. them when it came to the parents with kids in the schools and take people that kids were out of the schools. It really got kind of nasty even at the town meeting. We don’t have that anymore, or we don’t have it to the same degree that we had it before.”
Stepping down will also free him up to be able to focus any volunteer work he wants to do elsewhere–specifically helping “somebody good” get elected governor.
“That is actually to the benefit of the town of Wilton, to the benefit of everybody. That goes back to what I was saying about impact. The town of Wilton is run tremendously well. We’re doing a great job. We’re doing the best with what we can. I don’t think frankly we could do better, but the state of Connecticut is the complete opposite of that. Unfortunately, we are dependent on the state of Connecticut and not vice versa. What I want to try to do in whatever way I can contribute towards it is getting somebody good elected Governor. Somebody who is going to get us all to work together to solve our problems. I don’t know whether that’s a Republican, or a Democrat, or unaffiliated.”
Kaelin doesn’t rule out getting back into municipal politics, though. “If I’m needed. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to. If there’s a match between what the needs are and what I have to offer, and I’m available, I will do it, but that’s the future.”
He does want residents to remember the dedication that his fellow volunteers have shown, and to be kind.
“All the nameless people that have approached me over the yeas and thanked me for what I was doing, because that’s the only reason to do it. The biggest hesitation, the thing that was really holding me back from resigning, was just my gratitude towards those people. Somebody just came up to me in the Stop and Shop parking lot four weeks ago. Frankly, I had already decided I was resigning. They just introduced themselves. I had never met them before. They basically just said you don’t know me, but I know you, or at least I pay attention to what you’re doing. I just want you to know I really appreciate it. That literally just made my day and just gave me more reason to do it,” Kaelin says, adding, “The positive feedback you get from people is a lot more motivating.”
He hopes that other people will find whatever motivation they need to get involved.
“The message I’d like to give people is to volunteer and get involved because it is their town. But I’ll also say I think people are doing that.”